I could actually hear actor Daniel Stern speaking walking almost shoulder to shoulder with my son as we awkwardly sauntered down the hallway with other parents and incoming students. I managed quick fly-by "hellos" and hand waves to those I recognized as we maneuvered our way throughout the school.
Maybe it was the lockers decorating the hallways or the older students helping us navigate during the open house, but suddenly my throat tightened and it hit me. Middle school. Sixth grade. How in hell did this happen?
How did my first born, my chubba love, my 10 lb. 14 oz. baby -- how did he grow so fast about to embark on his own "Wonder Years" experience?
As we tried to find the "yellow" section that he was assigned to, an old diddy popped into my head.
"Okay, here's the situation. My parents went away for a week's vacation and they left the keys to the brand new Porsche, would they mind? Hmmm. Well, of course not. I'll just take it for a little spin and maybe show it off to a couple of friends...."
How many times did I scream out that song with hundreds of other junior highers at the monthly Friday night dance? My son probably knows who Will Smith is, but has no idea he once chilled with a dude named DJ Jazzy Jeff.
I looked over at my 5'6" son and squeezed his hand. 1-2-3. Our secret way of saying "I love you" without having to embarrassingly orate it.
"I think I'm going to cry," I admitted to him.
Dexter smiled. "Oh, mom."
As we explored his classrooms he appeared completely confident. The exact opposite of how I felt entering junior high, or now, middle school years.
My best friend Mae and I decided we were going to wear the same exact outfit on our first day of junior high. Black jeans, black pointy-toed shoes and we both embarrassingly wore these horrendous shirts that had abstract black squiggles all over them. I'll never forget how uncomfortable I felt entering the public school system for the first time after five years in private Catholic School.
Everyone in the auditorium gravitated towards familiarity. The groups represented the elementary schools that were scattered throughout the town I grew up in. Symonds School kids sat with Symonds school. Jonathan Daniels kids paired off with Jonathan Daniels. Our St. Joe's crew definitely created the smallest lot that day.
It was intimidating and beyond uncomfortable.
Unlike how I felt at 11 Dexter, however, seemed to be ready for this next chapter.
One teacher asked him if he was "excited, nervous or both."
"Neither," he replied.
The teacher laughed.
"Well are you calm then?"
The tightness formed back in my throat.
As we walked out of the building where my son will spend the next three years before moving on to (I-don't-even-want-to-think-about-it high-school) I so badly wanted to hug him and not let go.
Sure, that would have embarrassed him, but I could feel his independence continuing to grow. I watched as he walked off with his father and younger sister and my eyes welled up.
So often he surprises me. His resiliency in handling our family's divorce, how he doesn't ever feel the need to be the center of attention, how he protects his little sister, how thoughtful he is, kind, compassionate. How he loves math (something I will never comprehend) and competes with himself trying to be the very best he can.
As we start this new chapter, I wonder. I wonder what successes he will have in sports, in academics, in life. I wonder what failures he will experience and know there will be many things going forward that he will no longer want to share, like who his secret crush or "Winnie Cooper" is.
I hope beyond hope that we will always be close, but I also realize he's growing up and I'm entering a new era where, "Parents just don't understand."